Insurgency and Illicit Markets

This essay maintains that criminal groups have an interest in keeping their present society functionating “as is,” since it is the source of profit.  Insurgent groups seeking to fund their operations through illicit market activities, also seek social change through political action, and would change that paradigm. At a granular level, criminal groups Center of Gravity is profit, an insurgent group is political (social).

Both converge because both seek profit, the black market landscape is specific for illegal goods and that is a narrower market landscape than the licit market.  This market terrain is why criminal and insurgent groups converge.  Both criminal groups and insurgent groups must use methodologies to maintain the security of their respective enterprises.  The actuation of these methodologies by criminal and insurgent groups is why there is similarity in behavior.  Hence, similarities between criminal groups and insurgent groups are found at these convergences of behavior, both dictated by the terrain.

Groups may engage in illegal market activities for some combination of the following reasons, but may have sufficient operational perspective that illicit market activities not only provides a source of revenue, but produces non-kinetic military effects in a target economy, making the process of illicit finance not only profitable in revenue generation, but also as weapon.  This serves to induce a positive feedback loop for the group: it produces military effects and makes a profit to fund further effects.

Reasons Certain Groups Employ Illicit Market Activities

-They are a proscribed group and cannot make use of the economic infrastructure.

-They cannot make use of the economic infrastructure for OPSEC reasons, i.e., Internet surveillance, financial reporting, accounting forensics.  This is an application of signature reduction to reduce visibility of the group in Information Systems and to prevent the development of evidence, such as selectors that could be employed in investigative network mapping and simply to prevent the group from being discovered.

-The commission of illicit market activities may produce military effects on the population, degrade the economy of the constituted government, as in the case of counterfeit goods.  Just as overt market activities can be “done for the greater good” and be profitable,  illicit market activities can be planned to influence the population “for the greater good of the insurgent” and still be profitable.

The recent Opioid Crisis in Appalachia is an example, where degradation of economic, social and cultural centers where amplified by the illicit sale of opioids through ad-hoc and minimally effective clandestine groups.

Market Security

Since insurgent groups are small and under-resourced, then maximization of existing resources becomes paramount. Maximization requires environmental and market intelligence, planning.  Center of Gravity analysis and the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) becomes an essential tools.  Illicit market activities employ the full spectrum of military planning since it is a paramilitary activity.  Effective clandestine networks for any purpose must be engineered to fit the environment.

In illicit market activities, that maximization can only occur under security provided by secure communications and tradecraft.  All things have to be present.  With secured operation, then small group efficiencies are produced by preventing un-needed investigative scrutiny and disruption by other groups and the state security services. More, since the State is large and commands considerable investigative resources, operations security, and tradecraft become essential.

The insurgent use of illicit market activities follows insurgent provision of security first, before market actuation (sales, transport, etc.).  Typically, illicit markets, such as drugs, are ad-hoc affairs with the results being porosity and unwanted attention—-all contributing to enterprise inefficiencies.  When additional inefficiencies are included: the behaviors of the customers, then a much larger inefficiency is realized.  While customer inefficiencies cannot be controlled for, the group can control for inefficiencies up to the interface between the group and customer—-security to the edge.

The Environment

Broadly, the environmental in this enterprise are human (the group, customer, competitor groups and the state security services).  State surveillance resources are so vast, granular and automatic that they are the key environmental that drives security practices.  Cryptocurrencies are attractive for purchases not because they are trendy, but because the counter state surveillance.

Security practices for the State matter will be effective for the competitor and customer groups, since this involves mostly signature reduction.  Competitor groups may also supply the illicit product for sale by the Group, so, signature reduction acts as a means to prevent this relationship from being known and exploited, say, by higher costs for product or outright warfare as in the case of the Mexican cartels.

Competitor groups include organizations and persons that seek to penetrate a group for some purpose, like journalists.  They compete for positive social recognition that the insurgent group maintains—-legitimacy.  As seen in media, journalists have infiltrated groups (because of non-existent security) and their exposes damaged the Groups public perception.  Again, security, particularly signature reduction, minimizes and controls the observable surface of the insurgent group.  The “fact of” a journalist contacting a member for a discussion is an indicator of poor security.  Since the State security services have better surveillance, what then does this journalist penetration tell of the Groups overall security?